I’m constantly encouraging (okay, forcing) my kids to find ways to make a situation they dislike more enjoyable. I’m sure it’s extremely annoying and something they’ll spoof one day in a skit during my 60th birthday dinner, but I’m willing to take that risk.
“Yes, you have to sit out here for eighteen hours in the heat during your brother’s opening day of the soccer season. But think of all the dandelions you’ll collect!”
Let them mock me. Making the mundane tasks of life more amusing is perhaps one of the most underrated abilities I can help them develop. To clarify, I’m not talking about finding the upside of a serious problem or putting a spin on legitimate tragedies like fatal diseases and life-altering accidents. The power I hope to impart is the subtle change of perspective that can cure simple ailments like boredom, or even constant annoyances like having to spend so much time in the car. (More on that particular example later.)
As far as passing on skills to my kids goes, my attempt at training them to bend their mindset this way is probably the best I can do. I’m not the one who teaches them how to play a team sport or individual sports like skating and skiing. I’m not the one who takes them camping, boating, or hiking. I don’t garden and my swimming skills are less than mediocre. I’m an indoor bird, but I’m terrible at anything craft related. My best skills are writing, reading, and cooking. However, I am also good at taking it upon myself, rather than others, to improve an otherwise bothersome situation. It’s a happiness tool far more useful over the long run than say, how to execute the perfect tennis serve.
A quick example: My son, 9, used to complain about how “unfair” it was that he had to sit through his sisters’ gymnastics class every Monday after school. After I pointed out how many of his summer soccer and baseball games the girls attend every year, I said it was his responsibility to either think of a way to make the hour fun, or to at least use the time to his advantage.
He asked me if I would let him use the iTouch if he completed all of his homework and then some. I said yes, which challenged him to get his assignments completed with a focus and determination that he does not demonstrate any other hour of the week. He turned the hour limit into a challenge to himself to get in as much (normally very restricted) iTouch time as possible. To that end, he sits down immediately and starts his homework before his sisters have even changed into their leotards. Even better, he stopped whining about being there, an improvement to my hour in the gymnastics waiting area as well.
Aside from directly coaching a kid through this powerful mind change, the best method is to lead the way. The latest example I’ve shared with the kids is how my newfound discovery of audiobooks (decades after everyone else) has cured my daily driving woes. I stumbled on this grand solution when at my neighborhood book club meeting in March, one of the women mentioned that she’d enjoyed listening to our April selection, The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. I’d never heard an audio version of a book before because it always felt like cheating.
“Does that count as reading?” I asked. The women in the room—serious readers, all of them—nodded. The next morning, one of my neighbors dropped off the CDs at my doorstep and forever changed my attitude about driving. I’ve long grown out of music as an aid to pass the (seemingly endless) time when I’m alone in my car. And after years of listening to radio talk shows, I’ve become tired of those voices filling the air, too. At last, like a hero riding into town on a white horse, the glorious world of audiobooks has swept me off my feet and brought joy to an unavoidable, daily task in my life. If I can’t get out of driving (I can’t), I know it’s up to me to make that time pleasant.
I now find myself getting in my kids’ school pick up line earlier than necessary so I can hear more of the story. I even signed up for an audible.com account so I can listen to books on my phone during other activities I dread like lifting weights at the gym or even putting away laundry. In less than a month I’ve heard all of The Kitchen House, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, and an entire David Sedaris show. It’s been incredibly gratifying.
“We get the point, Mom,” I can imagine my kids saying soon. “You can stop talking about audiobooks now.” And I will smile with self-satisfaction knowing that a bit more of their training is complete.
Have you found ways to make otherwise dreaded activities more enjoyable?
Illustration by Christine Juneau
Read Nina’s “This is Three” essay in This is Childhood, a book about the first years of childhood and motherhood.